Manchester United’s Return to Glory and 2018 EPL Outrights
The 2017-2018 English Premier League commences Friday (2:30 EST in the States) with Arsenal, fresh off their FA Community Shield penalty-shootout victory over current holders Chelsea, in a matchup against the prior holders, Leicester City. Just like the NFL stateside, the Premier League rolls out its season beginning in stages – expect a fun and festive affair Friday evening (local time) in London.
But before any of the games begin, there are many things to catch up on, some big moves, and some substantial changes that will impact any outright wagers.
Let’s first look at the odds for the 2017-2018 Outright Winners:
PREMIER LEAGUE – OUTRIGHT ODDS (Courtesy Bovada.lv):
- Manchester City +175
- Chelsea +325
- Manchester United +325
- Tottenham Hotspur +900
- Liverpool +1100
- Arsenal +1100
- Everton +6600
- Leicester City +20000
- Southampton +35000
- West Hampton +35000
For all intents and purposes, this year’s Premiership should be like all the others over most of recent history; six clubs fighting for four spots in the Champions League with one settling for Europa and one bitterly disappointed. Last year it was Liverpool edging out the Gunners by a single point, sending Arsenal out of the Champions League for the first time in two decades. Europa League beware…
Manchester United took the sixth spot, but thanks to their circuitous route (Europa League championship), Arsenal will be the only English power sitting on the sidelines when Champions League begins in earnest next week (Playoffs) and the following month (Pool Play, assuming Liverpool can progress past Hoffenheim). Their odds are slightly depressed this season to earn the top spot in the Premiership but might be a sneaky value at +1100.
In fact, if you eliminate Leicester City and the Miracle of 2015-2016, no one outside the Big Five (it was the Big Four traditionally, but Man City certainly merits inclusion these days – Liverpool is also a player, though they’ve never won the actual title and traditionally lag behind the other five) has won the League since its inception in 1992 aside from the Blackburn Rovers in 1994. Parity? Don’t let Leicester fool you. EPL is an oligarchy to an extreme no American sport can mirror.
You can wax poetic about Everton and the glorious homecoming of Wayne Rooney, or long for a magical return to form for Jamie Vardy and the Foxes, but in truth, this is a six-team race, and there is little sensible reason to place any wagers elsewhere.
We will talk about promotion and relegation, prop wagers, over/under, etc. at another time, but for now, let’s look at the Top Six Clubs and their chances for glory in 2018.
2017-2018 English Premier League Preview
THE FAVORITE – MANCHESTER CITY +175
Pep Guardiola’s men enter the 2017-2018 campaign as relatively strong favorites to hoist the trophy at the end of the season despite an underwhelming third-place performance in the manager’s debut season. Some have been critical of the manager’s “score at all costs” tactics and the large concessions it yielded last season. They dropped some painful December contests, including a 4-2 loss to Leicester City and a 3-1 loss to some real defensive issues. In fact, the team recorded a mere 12 clean sheets all season long.
City will have to defend more stoutly in 2017-2018 if they aim to capture their third EPL title. Long-time keeper and English national, Joe Hart was replaced loudly by Guardiola prior to last season with the addition of Claudio Bravo. That went, um, poorly. This season, the club ponied up $40 million Euro for 23-year old Brazilian keeper, Ederson. The hope is the Brazilian national can help protect the goal so often left vulnerable by a shaky back line defense.
Offensively, this club should continue to shine. Sergio Aguero will be a strong contender to lead the Premier League in goals with Kevin de Brunye in excellent support. Their lineup is deep and talented enough to handle the concurrent demands of both EPL and Champions League, where they will be keen to improve upon last year’s Round of 16 exit.
Expectations are high this year at the Etihad, but for excellent reason. But with expectations comes pressure, and it will be interesting to see how embattled second-year man Pep Guardiola handles the lofty assumptions and if his defense can improve enough to withstand the many challengers in close pursuit.
NEXT IN LINE – CHELSEA +325 AND MANCHESTER UNITED +325
Current holders Chelsea and the venerable champions Manchester United enter the 2017-2018 campaign with mirroring +325 odds. Both have more than a legit chance at claiming the top spot, though Manchester’s path has gotten a little more complex with their long shot addition to the Champions League this season dividing their attention and resources.
Chelsea is the current holder, but the odd circumstance with Diego Costa looms large over the team. He is no longer welcome on the team, according to manager Antonio Conte, who “told the combative striker earlier in the summer that he was no longer featured in his plans.” Yet, the striker who contributed 20 goals and 7 assists last season hasn’t found a new club yet, so you never know if some early desperation could change the team’s tune. Costa’s replacement, Alvaro Mora, will have a lot of pressure on his shoulders.
The Blues open with a tough slate, with games against Everton and Arsenal and trips to Tottenham and Leicester in their first six games.
Meanwhile, it is additions, not subtractions, that have folks in Manchester buzzing with excitement. Man U. parted with long-time striker Wayne Rooney, who went back ‘home’ to Everton while Manchester made the splashy addition of Everton’s Romelu Lukaku for a record $75 million Euro transfer. This is on the heels of last summer’s additions of Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who scored 28 times in all competitions before his knee injury. It can’t be said that Manchester United isn’t all in in 2017-2018. Jose Mourinho will have some juggling to do with his talented roster, keeping everyone fresh thanks to a Europa League Championship-earned Champions League berth. However, even if Ibrahimović is slow to return, this team is a legit threat to win the league.
THE VALUE PLAYS: TOTTENHAM, LIVERPOOL, AND ARSENAL
TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR +900:
Any discussion of Spurs starts with talented superstar Harry Kane, who will be looking to duplicate a fantastic 2016-2017 campaign. He led the EPL with 29 goals last season and only 5 of them on penalties. Kane gets a lot of the attention, and well-deserved, but the play of Dembele seems to more greatly influence the club. Look for him to play a huge role in the success of 2017-2018. There seems to be some consternation among Spurs fans regarding playing the 2017-2018 campaign in Wembley while they await the completion of their new stadium, but I wouldn’t let that scare me away from Spurs at a great +900 value.
They have been making a steady climb over the last three seasons, moving from fifth, to third, to last year’s 86-point runner-up finish. They didn’t make the splashy moves that some of their counterparts did in the offseason, but there is plenty of talent and promise at Tottenham.
As storied as the Liverpool franchise may be, they are still on the outside of the Premier League Champions club. They earned their way into the Champions League last season on the heels of back-to-back sixth and eighth place finishes. Expectations are high once again this season in Liverpool after the club-record signing of Mohamed Salah. He has looked great in preseason, hitting the back of the net four times.
They have a chance to ramp up the excitement early with a favorable schedule that includes four games in which they will be favored, a visit from Arsenal and a tricky measuring stick game at Manchester City. The Reds are actually talking title, and it isn’t completely ridiculous. I don’t see them getting a top of either Manchester squad this season, and Chelsea and Tottenham seem better on paper, but a repeat Champions League run isn’t out of the question.
To call last season a disaster for the Gunners would be a massive understatement. The proud London side missed the Champions League for the first time in two decades after a disastrous fifth place campaign. They stormed back into the picture late, but the early hole was too deep for Arsene Wegner’s squad.
It does say a little about the historical greatness of Arsenal if a 75-point fifth place finish is a “disaster” and it is hard to see the Gunners missing out for a second straight season, even with Vegas putting them T-5th on the board at +1100.
There is plenty of talent on board to get back to prominence. Alexandre Lacazette is a big signing from Lyon, and he should be a nice clinical addition to couple with Olivier Giroud’s physicality. Alexis Sanchez’s status is a question mark, but Alex Iwobi, Theo Walcott, and Danny Welbeck are in the fold, in addition to Mesut Ozil, and of course, Giroud.
Dismiss the Gunners at your own peril. They have some real value at +1100.
EPL 2017-2018 PROJECTIONS:
If picking an EPL champion seems difficult this season with so many evenly-matched squads who (nearly) all made splashy and dramatic offseason changes, then projecting which of these six squads will end the year in bitter disappointment, failing on both Champions and Europa League inclusion, is even MORE difficult. The projections settle into two distinct categories from a wagering perspective; Man City, Man United, and Chelsea as the clear top three, with Liverpool, Tottenham, and Arsenal battling fiercely to be included in the Champions League.
For my EPL winner, I’m going with the continued resurgence of Manchester United at a decent price of +325. The addition of Romelu Lukaku will prove to be the biggest move of the offseason, as his 25 goals from 2016-2017 mark a massive upgrade from the aging Wayne Rooney. I expect both he and Pogba to have massive seasons, enough to make anything that could possibly emerge from the return of Ibrahimović a bonus, not a necessity. From there, give me City followed by Chelsea.
I’ll take Arsenal to sneak into the final Champions League slot, with Tottenham left to navigate the Europa route and Liverpool finding the strain of a long-awaited dual campaign with EPL and Champions League a little too much to bear.